Australia’s smallest state has an impressively long list of natural landscapes to discover, buzzing historical hubs to explore, and top-notch eateries, bars and hotels to indulge in. Our island state punches way above its weight.
Founded in 1804, Hobart was originally a penal colony, and after Sydney, it is Australia’s oldest city. Although chosen as the capital for its port and abundance of fresh water, throughout the late 1800s, Hobart’s focus on culture began to expand with the opening of an acclaimed university. Art then began to seep into the fabric of the settlement, and today, with its colonial buildings, stunning landscape and abundance of wilderness, and an obvious dedication to building up a foodie hub and arts mecca, Hobart is on most traveller’s bucket lists.
Hiking, history and art
Only a half hour drive from downtown Hobart, you can explore Wellington Park and traverse the trails to the peak of Kunanyi (pronounced koo-narn-yee) – which means ‘mountain’ in palawa kani – a language of Tasmanian Aborigines. The 1,271 metre-high mountain is also known as Mount Wellington, but was officially gazetted under its Indigenous name in August 2013.
In this magical, pristine landscape you can go bushwalking, horse riding, hike the trails or go mountain biking – just remember to take warm clothes as it is well known for its biting cold winds, and is often snow-capped.
Kunanyi has the much appreciated Pinnacle Observation Shelter for when the weather is particularly challenging at the summit, but the view is worth it. The distinctive dolerite columns known as the Organ Pipes create a distinctive shape to the face of the mountain making it an utterly arresting natural wonder.
One of the first areas settled around Hobart, Battery Point is filled with colonial architecture and the historic atmosphere of what once was. Go on the Battery Point Historic Walk for an immersive experience where you can wander about some of the areas first streets and cottages.
A must-do stop along the walk is one of Hobart’s biggest, most colourful and buzzing draw cards – Salamanca Market. Perfectly positioned next to the harbour in front of some of Hobart’s oldest buildings where pubs, cafes, restaurants and stores now reside, it’s open every Saturday and draws thousands of people to the hundreds of stalls that fill the main street, which is shut down to cars so that the crowds can freely wander. Here you’ll find a dizzying array of locally made items, with everything from clothing and hats, to woodwork and metalwork, delicious cheeses, meats and an awe-inspiring array of local produce. When you get hungry, try some of the many hot food offerings or simply stop in one of the many pubs or restaurants.
Another place that you can’t miss in Hobart is the world-famous Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). There is no other museum/gallery like it in the world. When it opened in 2011, it was expected to shock, and was immediately dubbed a ‘subversive Disneyland’. People love it or hate it, and the creator of MONA, David Walsh, makes no apologies for offending visitors. In fact, he has gone on record saying that the many controversies and debates surrounding MONA are good for business. And they are. Even those who hate MONA are so intrigued that they stay.
You can drive there, but the best way to arrive at the museum is by taking a 25-minute trip along the River Derwent on MONA’s very own catamaran ferry – the Mona Roma II (MRII). It has camo-themed livery and a jungle thing going on, and it’s only the tiniest taste of the kookiness that awaits you at the other end. You can choose which class you travel in – cattle class will set you back $22 (one way), and you can sit on moulded tigers or sheep. Then there’s the Posh Pit, which is $55 one way, and then you can indulge in drinks and nibbles on the private deck and bar.
Some of the most talked about exhibits are the wall of 150 porcelain vaginas cast from real women (showing that every one is different). And there is Tim – the (very much alive) man who has spent more than 3,500 hours sitting on platform in MONA, with his tattooed back on view for visitors. The ‘artwork’ was sold (and it’s not finished) to a German art collector in 2008, for more than $250,000.
And then there’s the infamous ‘poo machine’ (pictured below) as everyone calls it. Commissioned by Walsh himself, ‘Cloaca’ replicates the gastroenterological journey food takes through the body, beginning at mastication and ending several hours later in – you guessed it – defecation. You can visit the exhibit at ‘feeding time’ twice a day, and witness a staff member giving the machine portions of food. These are fed into a receptacle where it is ingested, and then it passes through a range of other processes mimicking those of the human body, before it comes out at the other end of the machine as faecal matter. Hold your nose. Interestingly, the machine has helped pathologists with their studies of bowel cancer.
Guests are given a free electronic narrator describing the exhibit and the story behind it, and you can vote and comment. Rumour has it that if something is liked too much, it won’t last long.
Take a break 17 metres underground at the Void Bar for a drink or two before continuing onto some of the other wonderfully shocking exhibits.
At the end of the day when the sun is setting, head over to the Armana gazebo created by internationally acclaimed artist James Turrell – a building described as ‘kind of what God would do if he decided to build a gazebo,’ to see an incredible light display. The exhibit sheds some more light on the piece by stating: “We see Amarna as an elevation of the museum’s hitherto subterranean pondering of the human condition. If that sounds vague, that’s because Turrell’s art must be seen to be believed; or, perhaps, not seen, but believed nonetheless.”
Devote another part of your stay in Hobart to beer, and have a nice cold brew at Cascade Brewery – the oldest operating brewery in Australia. Go on the Cascade Historic Tour to learn more about the beginnings of the brewery or opt for the Brewery Tour to see the process behind how to make its drinks, ending in a tasting. Take some time in its heritage brewery garden and trying some bar snacks entrees while enjoying one of the staple drinks like the Mercury Draught Cider or the Cascade Draught on tap.
If you are a whiskey lover, you are in for a real treat – many a whiskey connoisseur has devoted an entire trip to Tassie just to explore its many whiskey offerings. A short toddle from the Hobart waterfront, Lark Distillery was once devoted entirely to showcasing its own whiskey, Lark Cellar Door and Whisky Bar offers the opportunity to taste Tasmania’s finest whisky and other distilled spirits in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Cosy lounge areas and an outdoor beer garden with a pop-up pizza van and live music create a great atmosphere, and it’s a popular place for locals to gather.
Then there’s the Old Kempton Distillery (pictured below) that is so devoted to its craft that is has its own distillery school. The distillery prides itself on delivering small batches only, and if you join its club you have access by ballot four times a year (August, November, February and May) to a special release.
The cellar door is located in a delightfully restored manor house with a lovely courtyard in which to sit and relax while you enjoy some home cooked treats from the cafe menu. The cellar door offers a wide variety of tastings of Old Kempton Distillery products – Single Malt Whisky, Tasmanian liqueurs and a range of gins. A premium tour & tasting (at 1.30pm every day excluding public holidays) is $180 for two people, and includes a Tasmanian antipasto platter for two, a bottle of premium Tasmanian Wobbly Boot wine, tea and coffee, and an exclusive tasting of new, unreleased single malt whiskeys.
Where to lay your head
Vibe Hotel Hobart is ready to deliver an ‘eat’, ‘play’ and ‘stay’ experience for its guests. Situated in the heart of historical Hobart, this brand-new hotel embraces the Australian lifestyle to the full. The architecturally-designed facade – with its trademark coloured feature fins – has transformed Hobart’s skyline.
An entertainment hub as well as a hotel, Wrest Point is the place to stay if you want your lodging to be your constant vacation escape. Resting by the harbour, you can stay in a luxurious tower, on the water’s edge, or in a quaint inn. Head up to The Point Revolving Restaurant for a bird’s eye view of the vast landscape and a terrific meal or catch a simple meal at the Boardwalk Café. In the evenings, take advantage of the musical performances or shows for entertainment, or try your luck in the casino.
Dine and wine your way around Hobart
No trip to Hobart is complete without visiting one of the many breakfast institutions. Pop into Daci & Daci Bakers – a European-style coffee house and bakery founded in 2011 by Naser and Cheryl Daci in order to bring baked goods made with high quality ingredients to the Hobart community. Grab a takeaway order or stay a while in the dining space and be swept up by the sumptuous smells of freshly-bakes cookies, homemade cakes, scones, and artisan breads as you sip on locally-roasted coffee and dive into a hearty breakfast. Try the baked eggs with mushrooms on sourdough bread or a tongue-tingling Portuguese custard tart. Its menu also includes gluten-free and vegan options for everyone to enjoy.
Frank Restaurant and Bar on Hobart’s Franklin Wharf, is the place to go on a night out. This eatery offers local cuisine with some South American inspiration in its contemporary menu. Small plates include deliciously light culinary combinations such as baba ghanoush, pomegranate and mint, or scallops, avocado puree and blood orange. Or for something more filling, go for the scotch fillet, the wagyu flank or the half or full roasted chicken flavoured by pickled radicchio by harissa. Top off the indulgence with a dark chocolate and brandy truffle or the wickedly wonderful peanut butter ice cream sandwich.
The Den Salamanca has an extensive wine list and it’s a well-known hotspot for unusual cocktails – although you can order traditional ones too. For something different, try ‘Stolen Trees’, which is made with smoked rum, banana liqueur, white chocolate liqueur and leatherwood honey. Or for a true taste of Tasmania, go for the ‘The Apple Isle’ – a concoction of vodka, yellow chartreuse, apple schnapps, sugar syrup, Tasmanian apple cider and dehydrated Tasmanian apple crisps.
However its also the decor in this place that shares centre stage – the floors, ceilings, walls and even the bar are covered in wood that is like one sprawling artwork, and it’s all set off with a central fireplace, clever lighting and mosaic art (check out the one in the kitchen of a Tasmanian Devil on the prowl. You won’t know if its night or day outside when you’re in the Den, which is a good thing, as its well worth lingering longer.